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California Community Colleges Online Education InitiativeThe California Community Colleges (CCC) Online Education Initiative (OEI) announced its intent to award Instructure Inc. the contract to provide an online course management system and related services to community colleges statewide.

Support for Instructure’s Canvas system was nearly unanimous among the OEI’s Common Course Management System (CCMS) Committee members, with overwhelming support from student participants, officials said. Canvas is a course management platform that is currently being used by more than 1,000 colleges, universities and school districts across the country.

“Both the students and faculty members involved believed that students would be most successful using the Canvas system,” said OEI Statewide Program Director Steve Klein. “The student success element was a consistent focus throughout.”

Unanimous Support Of Steering Committee

The CCMS Committee made its recommendation to OEI management at a meeting held in Sacramento on Feb. 5, following three days of detailed demonstrations of features, functions and services, and in-depth interviews with the vendor finalists who met all the stringent criteria of the RFP process. The OEI Steering Committee unanimously supported the vendor recommendation of the CCMS Committee.

Student representatives participated in the process and provided valuable feedback to the committee. “I believe that Canvas was the best [course management system] demonstrated,” said Dahlia Salem, a student representative from Foothill College. “It's seamless and modern layout and simple navigation sold me on it from the get-go. Canvas actually provided me the option to set where and when I would like to receive notifications/emails about assignments, which is something I never had the freedom to do on any other CMS."

Salem added that it was evident throughout the process that the faculty members involved were dedicated to “choosing the CMS that best fits the students’ needs and not just their needs as a teacher."

Statewide Faculty Input Guided Process, Selection

A 55-member selection committee participated in the RFP review that utilized an extensive scoring rubric. The decision-making process was guided by and included the active involvement of the CCMS Committee, which is composed of the CCMS Workgroup of the OEI Steering Committee, the members of OEI’s Management Team, and representatives from the eight Full Launch Pilot Colleges, which will be the first colleges to test and deploy the CCMS tool.

The recommendation culminated an extremely thorough decision-making process that included input from multiple sources statewide, and began with the OEI’s formation of a CCMS selection process in early 2014. The selection process was designed to ensure that a partner would be chosen to address the initiative’s vision for the future.

A Distance Education Coordinator's Retreat held last June helped move the process forward, soliciting meaningful information regarding the potential requirements and design of a content management system. Other input activities followed, including a series of faculty and student surveys as well as faculty input through an online discussion platform, which generated more than 3,000 comments, and deep discussions with an eight-member team of renowned higher-education distance-education leaders. This input, along with a formal release of a Request for Information in June, led to the issuing of the CCMS Request for Proposal on Oct. 27.

A Thorough Decision-Making Process

CCMS Committee Chair and Pierce College faculty member Joe Perret referred to the overall process as “thorough, grueling and participatory.” He noted that faculty from across the state took lead roles in selecting the criteria, evaluating the responses, doing reference checks, site visits and testing of the proposed systems. “We estimate the average committee member spent 140 hours to 160 hours on this selection process over the last eight months, with some doing far more.”

“The tenor of the entire decision-making process centered on what’s best for the students,” said OEI Executive Director Pat James.

James added that all the vendor finalists put forth a tremendous effort. “We want to acknowledge our respect for all the applicants,” she said. “They all showed a great deal of respect for our system.”

Robust, Intuitive Tools

Canvas is well known as a uniform, easy-to-navigate online environment with a full complement of tools and support for both students and faculty. The company will work with OEI to provide a robust solution that can keep pace with technology advances and the expanding needs of a sophisticated online education environment. It is also envisioned that the tools will be intuitive to use, allowing faculty to spend more time on professional development for pedagogy than on learning the technology of the course management system.

Implementation with the Full Launch Pilot Colleges is now in the early development stage and information about the roll out will follow the formal procurement. Additionally, the OEI team will move forward with project planning and communication protocols with the vendor while professional development planning begins.

“I think we have laid the groundwork for an amazing implementation that will profoundly enhance not only online classes but every course taught in the California Community Colleges,” Perret said.

Sandoval Chagoya is the Communications Director for the
California Community Colleges Technology Center at Butte College.